Alexander Petersen – Portland, Oregon

Mother//Birth, graphite on paper, 50 in by 30 in, 2014

Mother//Birth, graphite on paper, 50 in by 30 in, 2014

Briefly describe the work you do.

My work is characterized by highly refined graphite drawings and illustrations, which are often accompanied by text. Drawings range from small, tightly rendered images to large, gestural articulations. Technical concerns deal almost exclusively with drawing and drawing mediums including graphite, conté, acrylics, water colors, gouache, and a minimum use of oils. Using a black and white medium with minimum color allows me the ability to encompass broad ideas in a specific, memorable, and emotional way.

Current work has evolved to encompass the relationship the human species has with the natural world, specifically that of the Class Mammalia within the Animalia Kingdom. The title, “Figure Relationship” references not only our relationship as a species with others (our dominance, destruction, and preservation for production) but that of techincal skills incorporating multiple images within one drawing. Graphite renderings of animals stand bold while subtle imagery hidden within the drawings provide visual clues conveying notes of maturity and the influence we have on the natural world.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I was raised on a small traditional farm in rural Iowa. My life has been characterized by an intimate understanding of nature, agriculture, and the interconnected fragility of all life. I’ve traveled extensively and the exposure of people and places has been essential in creating depth and understanding both in myself and the work that I create. 

Bison, graphite on paper, 50 in by 30 in, 2013

Bison, graphite on paper, 50 in by 30 in, 2013

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

Currently my studio is in my home, in the past I’ve moved between shared and solitary spaces near to where I live. I’ve always considered my studio practice traditional, as far as the manipulation of materials within a designated space to create art. Often integrating this space with daily domestic activities, it is my creative habits within that specified space that define “my studio” clearly for myself. The rituals of time spent working, placement of pieces, and processes give life to my studio.    

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

I feel a close connection with spirituality and the roles I imagine mystics to occupy. Drawing for me is a practice in meditation, an occupation devoted to quiet thought. I’m sure many artist feel this way but it was never something I cognitively associated with growing up. I’ve always thought I’d be drawing concept illustration for a paycheck, spirituality seemed reserved for another part of life. I now understand it to be essentially interwoven.

Intertwined, graphite on paper, 50 in by 30 in, 2014

Intertwined, graphite on paper, 50 in by 30 in, 2014

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

I can’t imagine limiting myself to a schedule. The physical act of making art is usually reserved for certain hours based on a schedule that isn’t clearly set. My thoughts never stray far from the art I am working on. Therefore when inspiration strikes, I make. Currently this has been during the morning but it is in constant flux. 

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

In the last five years my work has shifted from large gestural conté drawings dealing with mythological narratives to small, tightly rendered graphite pieces reflecting societal structures and self-identity. My current work is a progression of graphite drawings to larger and larger scales while remaining highly rendered. 

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

My greatest influences have been writers. I’ve always been a voraciously sporadic reader, with interests spanning many genres, periods, and styles. Dostoevsky’s depth and immensity stick out as early influences to pursue higher forms of art. Currently I’ve been captivated by philosophers Slavoj Žižek and John David Ebert as well as writers such as Jonathan Franzen and Thomas Pynchon.  

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

School bus driver. Every kid needs a hero. 


headshotBorn in the Midwest, 1989; raised in eastern Iowa, educated in Cedar Falls at the University of Northern  Iowa. Completion of degree in 2011 with a BFA in studio art; Minor in Art History. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon. Employed teaching children art with non-profit after school arts program, K-5. When awake he spends time making art from his studio, reading books, and writing fiction.

In the Studio

In the Studio

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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